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THEATER TALK: Best Of 2012

Katie Buenneke |
December 18, 2012 | 10:39 a.m. PST

Theater Editor

From the 56 eligible shows I saw this year (shows that were professionally produced and which I saw for the first time in 2012), I now present the best theater I saw this year.

  1. "Yentl" at the Asolo Repertory Theatre. I had no clue what I would be seeing when I took the opportunity to review Yentl at the Asolo Repertory Theatre in Sarasota, Florida—I'd never seen the Barbra Streisand movie (not that it would have been much help) and I'd never even heard of the story before. But I am so glad that I saw "Yentl," as it was hands down my favorite show of 2012. It's the kind of production that lives on, gloriously untouchable in my memory, and I hope that there are great things in store for it.
  2. "Red" at the Mark Taper Forum. To be quite frank, I'm not the kind of person who "gets" visual art. I mostly look at something and either I like it, or I don't, but I don't spend a lot of time thinking about the way paintings or photographs make me feel. But "Red," a play about Mark Rothko, not only taught me about modern art, but also made a powerful broader statement about the arts in general. Add in great direction and strong performances, and the show was easily one of my favorites of the year.
  3. "Once" on Broadway. I'd seen the movie and enjoyed it years ago, but I'd kind of forgotten about "Once" until I heard that it was being made into a musical. I tried to see it at the New York Theatre Workshop, but it was completely sold out, so I had to wait until it transferred to Broadway this spring. I think it was worth the wait though, as "Once" is an incredibly beautiful and moving show. Everything about it is so delicately, yet effectively conveyed to the audience.
  4. "Peter and the Starcatcher" on Broadway. Peter Pan is one of my favorite stories, and I adored last year's "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson," so I suppose it's no surprise that I enjoyed "Peter and the Starcatcher" as much as I did. And what's not to like about a delightful Peter Pan prequel told with spunk and plenty of imagination?
  5. "Death of a Salesman" on Broadway. I'll be one of the first people to admit that I don't really like "Death of a Salesman" as a play. I'll also be one of the first to admit that if actors I like are putting on a show, I'll probably see them in it, even if I don't like that show. And so I was drawn into the revival of "Death of a Salesman" by the lure of Andrew Garfield and Philip Seymour Hoffman—and wow, did they blow me away. They both put forth some incredible acting on that stage, and I feel privileged to have seen it.
  6. "Cymbeline" at A Noise Within was a one of the most delightful shows this year. Photo by Craig Schwartz.
    "Cymbeline" at A Noise Within was a one of the most delightful shows this year. Photo by Craig Schwartz.
    "Cymbeline" at A Noise Within. I'd only heard of "Cymbeline," one of Shakespeare's last plays, but I didn't know much about it. I was quite charmed by the production at A Noise Within this fall though, and very impressed by how effectively Bart DeLorenzo and his capable cast told the rather convoluted story with clarity. 
  7. "Into the Woods" off-Broadway. I only saw the second performance of "Into the Woods," so I couldn't review it, as it was still in previews. Regardless, I quite enjoyed the show, which was the subject of considerable scrutiny. While the production wasn't flawless (though that was to be expected with outdoor theater whose rehearsal process has been adversely affected by the weather), it was still thoroughly enjoyable and very entertaining. 
  8. "Good People" at the Geffen Playhouse. A play about a working-class Bostonian starring the mom from "Malcolm in the Middle" and playing in Westwood—doesn't seem like a recipe for success, does it? Yet "Good People" at the Geffen was a resounding success, with both David Lindsay-Abaire's playwriting and Jane Kaczmarek's acting working together to create an powerful night at the theater. 
  9. "Waiting for Godot" at the Mark Taper Forum. Though I'd studied "Waiting for Godot," I never thought I'd enjoy seeing it—until I saw it at the Taper this spring. While Alan Mandell and Barry McGovern didn't exactly make sense of Samuel Beckett's dense play (that would defeat the purpose, I think), I felt like I "got" it, which is quite an accomplishment in and of itself.
  10. "Triassic Parq" off-Broadway. A delightfully silly musical about velociraptors who are questioning their gender identity, "Triassic Parq" took an interesting premise and turned it into a thoroughly entertaining and sensitive show about dinosaurs who are surprisingly similar to humans we know. I'm glad the show gets to live on, and I'm even happier that it will be at Chance Theater Company here in L.A. in January.

Runners-up: "Our Town" at the Broad Stage, "Anything Goes" at the Ahmanson, "One Man, Two Guvnors" on Broadway, "Food and Fadwa" off-Broadway, "Newsies" on Broadway.

Best performance by a male in a musical: Steve Kazee, "Once." Mr. Kazee was utterly charming as Guy in "Once," showcasing his affecting talent for singing and acting.

Best performance by a female in musical: Audra McDonald, "Porgy and Bess." While I wasn't completely wild about the "Porgy and Bess" revival, Ms. McDonald was a force of nature on that stage, reinforcing her status as one of the great musical theater performers of our time.

Best performance by a male in a play: Andrew Garfield, "Death of a Salesman." Mr. Garfield managed to take a character I'd never really thought about or cared for one way or the other, Biff, and made him into a fully-realized and sympathetic creature.

Best performance by a female in a play: Hillary Clemens, "Yentl." I really cannot stop raving about "Yentl," and Ms. Clemens' performance as the title character certainly contributed to my high esteem for the show.

Best Hollywood star in a musical: Amy Adams, "Into the Woods." As the trend of casting TV and film actors in musical continues, it becomes more apparent which stars are capable of performing a grueling six to eight shows a week. While I'd enjoyed Ms. Adams in "Enchanted," movie musicals and stage musicals are very different in terms of the demands on the performer (except in the case of the upcoming "Les Miserables," of course), but I was pleasantly surprised by her turn as the Baker's Wife in "Into the Woods," bringing strong acting and singing to the large outdoor amphitheater in Central Park.

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